Legal Reference

Police state E-Verify probably will be renewed this week

Police state E-Verify probably will be renewed this week

System that checks status of workers set to expire

Short-term extension is likely; long term in doubt

by Daniel González - Mar. 2, 2009 12:00 AM

The Arizona Republic

Congress is expected to extend the life of E-Verify this week, but long-term questions remain about the future of the federal system, which Arizona and other states require employers to use to screen out illegal workers.

The system, criticized by some as error-prone and lauded by others as a tool to curb illegal immigration, has turned into a political hot potato.

After winning a four-month reprieve last year, E-Verify is set to expire on Friday. Although more than 100,000 employers nationwide use E-Verify, the system is mired in the debate over comprehensive immigration reform. With that issue on the backburner because of the nation's economic crisis, a long-term solution for employers looking to verify worker eligibility isn't likely anytime soon. But another short-term fix is likely.

On Wednesday, the House approved a large government spending package that included a provision to reauthorize E-Verify through Sept. 30. The Senate is expected to begin debate this week and whatever package is approved is likely to include the same Sept. 30 extension for E-Verify, said Ryan Patmintra, a spokesman for Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Anne Hilby, a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, said it remains unclear how Arizona employers would be affected should E-Verify expire because the Legal Arizona Workers Act requires employers to use the program but doesn't specify what to do if the program no longer exists.

Even if the Senate doesn't extend E-Verify by Friday, though, it's unlikely the system would stop functioning overnight. The government has budgeted $100 million to pay for the program through Sept. 30, said Marie Sebrechts, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, or CIS.

E-Verify allows employers to electronically check whether new employees are U.S. citizens or legal residents with permission to work in the U.S., making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to gain employment using bogus documents.

The system is voluntary at the national level, and few employers signed up until Arizona and other states began requiring its use. As of Feb. 21, there were 29,782 Arizona employers signed up for E-Verify, according to CIS. Arizona employers represent one-fourth of the 111,750 employers who have signed up for E-Verify nationwide, CIS said. California is second, with 8,898 employers enrolled in E-Verify, and Texas is third, with 5,797.

E-Verify has turned into a contentious political issue in Congress at a time when a growing number of states are requiring employers to use the system in an effort to stop illegal immigration. Some lawmakers have tried to extend the system long term, while others want to hold off until Congress gets around to considering E-Verify as part of comprehensive immigration reform, a highly divisive issue that has failed twice since 2006 and would probably include a legalization program, beefed-up border security and worksite enforcement.

Last year, a bill by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., to reauthorize E-Verify for five years passed 407-2 in the House but died in the Senate.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has ordered her agency to review the immigration system, including E-Verify, to address concerns it is vulnerable to fraud and that too many U.S. citizens and legal residents are being falsely rejected, Giffords said.

Rebecca Rudman, a spokeswoman for Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., a leading supporter of E-Verify, said some members of Congress are trying to use the system as leverage to gain support for comprehensive immigration reform, including the legalization program, which opponents consider amnesty.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some other business groups have tried to discredit E-Verify in an effort to prevent the program from becoming mandatory nationwide, said Janice Kephart, director of national security policy at the Center for Immigration Studies. The Washington, D.C.-based research group wants to reduce both legal and illegal immigration.

"The home builders and construction industry (in many states) rely on illegal workers so they don't want E-Verify," she said. "Right now, they can rely on the old paper-based program, which allows them to turn a blind eye to illegal workers. But legitimate employers love (E-Verify) because they don't have to guess anymore" if a worker is legal.

Angelo Amador, director of immigration policy at the U.S. chamber, said his group supported legislation to extend E-Verify long term but remains concerned that the system is expensive, hurts small businesses, has too much red tape and remains prone to a high number of false negatives - employees initially rejected by the system who later turned out to be legally authorized to work.

More on this topic

States using E-Verify

E-Verify is a voluntary federal program that allows employers to use an online database to see if prospective employees are allowed to work in the U.S. Twelve states require its use, to some extent:

Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina (by 2010): All employees, public and private.

Colorado: State contractors.

Georgia: State agencies, contractors and subcontractors.

Idaho: State agencies and contractors.

Minnesota: State agencies and state contractors.

Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah: Public employers, contractors and subcontractors.

North Carolina: State agencies.

Rhode Island: State agencies, grantees, contractors and subcontractors.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures